Finally, Lent is nigh.
Some years you get used to Lent starting right after Christmas and then, one year, it seems never to come. Sneaky, sneaky Lent. I actually had a little panic last Tuesday when I thought that Ash Wednesday must be the next day. Phew, no, I could put off dealing with the spiritual crud for one more week.
Well, get ready. That week is here.
Far be it from me to tell you what to do, and also I have a lot of things I’m already telling you, like how to deal with your teenage girls (soon!), how to finish cleaning the kitchen (soon!), and what it means to be a woman (last Lent, but still working on it), but there are a couple of things maybe we could talk about.
You know how you really love making things, and will neglect even the most basic responsibilities to fashion, say, knitting needles or dish mats? And you know how you love when your kids make things, and have a walk-in closet full of supplies for every known craft from stamping to wood-burning? You know how you jump to assure others that homeschooling does not mean “crafts with kids” to you, and they give you that blank look? Like, “You?”
Yes, you are so crafty. But you are not that fond of “activity” crafts, right? You know how you have every intention of getting your kids to do projects in religion, but then things fizzle out and you just take a nap? You know how bad you are at praising God with a paper plate?
But, enough about me.
Well, what if it’s actually okay not to stress out about finding things for your kids to do for liturgical seasons?
Here’s the thing. I’m almost embarrassed to discuss these thoughts with you. I am aware of being seriously outclassed here. I know what kinds of things are proposed….
Yet, I think that well meaning parents, especially the intense homeschooling kind — but really the intense any kind at all — tend to feel that if they are not actively teaching their children something, the children aren’t learning it. These parents are results-oriented, and they unintentionally violate my second rule of parenting (“Don’t seek affirmation from your children”) because they don’t quite understand it.
They think I mean (I mean if they’ve ever heard of me and my rules, which is doubtful), “Go ahead and make your kids mad” but that isn’t it. That’s more Tiger Mother stuff, and we don’t really believe in that. What I mean is more like “Don’t expect obvious results right away; in fact, get used to plowing ahead with your simple vision and seeing no outcome whatsoever.”
Very much in line with this no-affirmation approach (which, by the way, fits in neatly with a lazy reluctance to drag out crafting supplies for which the mess-to-learning ratio is far too high) is my advice about liturgical seasons. Which is this:
Try living them.
Instead of setting out to teach your children about Lent, just try living Lent. I mean, I’m only saying this if you are a little overwhelmed and in the dark about what to do. If you have a really great plan in place, don’t let me interfere!
In the few hours left to you, gather everyone together (preferably during dinner, and preferably let your husband gather everyone) and have a big discussion of what you will give up as a family these forty days. The usual things are TV/movies/video games during the week, sweets, ice cream (gah), and snacking, although go easy on that last one with growing children who seem on the skinny side.
But choose your own thing to do as a family. I know that you could go to other, better, more organized blogs and there you would get better ideas. I’m only telling you what large Catholic families whose moms are hanging on by a thread do. They give up TV and sweets. And it is really, really hard.
In recent years we have made a special effort to give the money we save to a local charity, because, to be honest, you don’t save all that much by not eating sweets, and a family in your town whose child is battling cancer will likely have more use for your $48.65 than the Red Cross. I think it’s good to make something in your community a priority occasionally. Put a jar in the center of the table and put the cash in there, along with any spare change that you run across.
When the kids were little, we often agreed during Lent to work on getting things cleaned up cheerfully for when Papa came home. That was one big Lenten sacrifice. Do you know how much easier it is to do a chore when it’s for someone you love whom you’re excited to see? Do you know how much children love to see their mother wanting to do something for their father?
That is what Lent is for: to work on virtue, especially the virtue of love.
Also, take a few moments to speak to each child alone about what virtue he could work on. Do you realize that you and your husband are your children’s spiritual directors? It’s true. You are there with the grace of God gently to guide them with your wisdom, even if you don’t feel that wise. So it’s a learning experience for you — to be approached with humility. Guide them with little steps to do a little better, with the help of the Lord, working on one thing — answering nicely, prompt obedience, watching out for a younger sibling, doing things without being told (take care to encourage with this last one, especially, as it’s easy to take the effort that goes into it for granted).
As you do this, you also learn a lot about how the Father works with us, one little step after the other, often using a time set apart to do His work…
Many parishes make it easier to get to Mass during Lent, which almost seems counter-intuitive. It’s far more important to put your energy into getting everyone to Mass than into extra activities. Mass, Stations of the Cross — these are the things our children will remember. This is what the Church wants us to do. I mean, if you want to.
And then, you know, as you quietly go about your devotions with your family, and your extra sacrifices, if the children take out the colored pencils and start drawing, well, that’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Here are some past posts on Lent that you might enjoy: